For four volumes now, Locke & Key has repeatedly demonstrated why it should be at the top of your “to read” list. Not “comics to read,” but “works of fiction to read.” It is so well written and beautifully illustrated that it will go toe to toe with anything else on your list.
After I read Locke and Key, Volume 3: Crown of Shadows (reviewed here), I didn’t quite know what to expect from Locke and Key, Volume 4: Keys to the Kingdom, written by Joe Hill (Twitter) and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (Twitter). When I first flipped through the book, I realized more keys were introduced in this volume than in previous ones, and the artwork had a different feel (more on that later). Volume 3 had a creepy, quiet, sad vibe to it. Turns out that was the calm before the storm because Volume 4 is packed with surprises, charm, violence, and the best ending to date.
Volume 4 begins with a pastiche to Calvin and Hobbes. I was a little surprised by this because it’s such a different style than what Rodriguez does throughout Locke & Key. But it makes perfect sense, when you see how it is used (and look for a cameo by “Yukon Ho!”). Volume 4 also contains several wordless panels and pages that let Rodriguez’s talent shine. I really can’t say enough about the artwork in this series. It’s beautiful, funny, gory, sexy, spooky, and visceral. Every panel is a pleasure.
And Joe Hill’s writing reveals how the Locke kids are coming to terms with their new life and their struggles. Bode is making friends, despite seeming to prefer staying inside his head. He’s also learning the severe consequences of fighting the ghosts of Keyhouse Manor. Kinsey is realizing that taking away her fears and sadness might not have been the smartest idea. And poor Tyler learns that becoming an adult can mean getting hurt again and again. But that gives him time to figure out a few things about who is friends really are.
My only complaint is that Nina Locke makes only one appearance in the volume. However, it’s a spark of hope amidst the sadness and violence of the rest of the volume. And it reinforces the idea that this is really the story of the Locke kids.
But that’s a tiny complaint. And it’s more than made up for with the volume’s ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but man, oh man. Here’s my impression of the last few pages: Oh no. Oh no! OH NO! Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, they get MUCH worse. I can’t get my hands on Volume 5 soon enough.